Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Ain't Misbehavin'
42nd Street Moon
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's review of Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit

Arís-Allen Roberson and Branden 'Noel' Thomas
Photo by Ben Krantz Studios
42nd Street Moon opens its 25th Anniversary Season with Ain't Misbehavin', a tribute to the black musicians of the 1920s and 1930s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance era of growing ingenuity, ethnic consciousness, and racial pride. It was the time of the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom. Ain't Misbehavin' was conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and has a book by Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz.

I first saw this revue at the Longacre Theatre in the summer of 1978 with Nell Carter, André DeShields, Amelia McQueen, Ken Page and Charlaine Woodard. I also saw the West End production in 1979 at Her Majesty's Theatre where DeShields and Woodard were still in the cast.

42nd Street Moon's talented singing cast consisting of Ashley D. Gallo, Katrina Lauren McGraw, Eric Richardson, Arís-Allen Robertson, and Branden 'Noel' Thomas rock. They are fantastic singers throughout this fast-paced 30-plus song, two-act production. The show opens with a photograph of Fats Waller on the stage, along with Nick Di Scala on reeds, Amanda Wu on bass, and Tim Vaughan on drums. Conductor Dave Dobrusky is dressed like a 1930s piano player, and enters the stage to sit at a piano that looks like one Fats Waller might have played. The actors arrive and break out in the upbeat title song written by Waller with Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf in the late 1920s. It was Waller's most popular song. The cast then segues into the rousing 1929 hit "Lookin' Good but Feelin' Bad." Most of the songs in the show were written by Waller and other African-American musicians of the 1920s and '30s. The cast provides an energy-driven "This Joint Is Jumpin'" at the end of first act. I was grooving at intermission.

Outstanding performances include "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" with Branden 'Noel' Thomas singing with pitch perfect resonance; "Honeysuckle Rose," with Branden and Erica Richardson harmoniously energizing; "The Jitterbug Waltz" sung by Branden and Katrina Lauren McGraw in a fantastic display of jiving; the bawdy "The Ladies Who Sing with the Band" sung by a most musically stimulating Branden and Arís-Allen Robertson; and "Lounging at the Waldorf," very excitingly performed by the whole company. "'T Ain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do" and "Viper's Drag" were sinuously executed by Arís-Allen ("Everybody's here but the police, and they'll be here any minute").

The fast-paced revue is directed and choreographed by Jeffrey Polk.

Ain't Misbehavin' runs through October 29, 2017, at the Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St. San Francisco. Tickets and information available at or by calling 415-255-8207. Next up is The Secret Garden running December 6 through December 24.